Ensemble's mix shakes Bottleneck

Friday, May 16, 2003

The elite members of the bare feet and Birkenstocks crowd on Wednesday night were at The Bottleneck, shaking it to Zuvuya -- or, more accurately, Zilla.

If you're asking yourself "What the heck is a Zuvuya or a Zilla?" I can't particularly blame you. Here's the breakdown: Zuvuya (supposedly named after a Mayan term for a "universal wave of energy" surrounding everyone) is the side-project of Michael Travis, drummer for popular jam act The String Cheese Incident. Zilla is another spin-off band, featuring Travis and Zuvuya hammered dulcimerist Jamie Janover. It's like a side-project of a side-project, so to speak.

Zilla is a quartet of self-taught multi-instrumentalists, employing lots of drums and percussion, as well as keyboards, bass and a bit of guitar. The ensemble's improvisational style mixes jazz, jam, funk, world and classical music.

Perhaps because scheduled openers Maktub (pronounced Mock Tube) had to cancel, Zilla was able to play longer, because the crowd got a pair of hour-plus sets. The band's brand of psychedelia often takes songs well beyond the 10-minute mark, with both tempo and key changes integral to the jazz-fusion blend.

The night's best moment came midway through the first set. Janover got a brief solo opportunity on the dulcimer as other members changed instruments. It added a more traditional flavor that moved beyond the stylistic constraints of a jam band. The extended solo then led into a slow, dreamlike piece that offered even die-hard dancers a break.

What makes Zilla interesting is the variety of sounds put into the music. Apart from Janover's percussion contributions, one of the most surprising elements is Steve Vidak's keyboard work. He often favors a Moog synthesizer, which gives the songs an astral, space-age vibe -- an element not often found in bands of their ilk.

With the exception of Vidak, all the members switched instruments throughout the show, with musicians moving ably from drums to bass to guitar to percussion. This instrumental versatility allowed them to make the best of their skills, but, most importantly, it made their performance even more unpredictable.